Turkey Buzzard Press
Reviewed by RD Armstrong
John Macker is a Santaro who uses words instead of paint to create his imagery. Unlike traditional Santo enthusiasts, he doesn’t limit his explorations to the mythology of New Mexican Catholicism, but explores further the spiritual nature of the land of enchantment.
Underground Sky is broken into three parts: Ghost Histories, A Life Made of Tracks, and Underground Sky. In my opinion, A Life Made of Tracks is the strongest section in terms of consistently solid poetry exhibiting strong, almost visceral, imagery. However, there are several poems in Ghost Histories that really stand out. For example, Ghost(s) Solstice or
When We Were Once Rivers, No More
Summer douses the birds
with lethargy, the wind hardly feels
like the wind at all
but something that
wrestles the heat to the ground
to lizard eye level and down below,
the guileless dry embudo has more staying
power than the dead.
Past misanthropes like Kit Carson or
Jack Spicer have left my old adobe house
a legendary drunken wreck, scattered their
ashes across this northern desert
& dusted their words:
“time does not
finish a poem.”
But waits for rain like it waits for death,
lizard scours the cacti for moisture
then scampers under my stock tank
In Tehran, a girl, full of love,
falls to the street, shot in the heart.
I watch a tarantula hawk drag a paralyzed
orb weaver 50 yards to
her burrow. Her memory of rivers is
as misshapen as mine, it’s as if this
big heat has wrestled time to the ground
dusts itself off,
kneels at desert’s edge,
cool rain to the mouth.
If there was a Tao of the badlands, then surely this poem would be a part of that tradition. In it, Macker quietly takes on the natural elements that make up the New Mexican high desert: wind, heat, rain & dust. These are the bones on which the sad, small dramas of man are hung, making a mere carcass into something familiar & identifiable. Macker uses this backdrop to tell his stories, painting with words, his visions of
…the same summertime sky,
The unmolested stars,
Almost August &
Dust is still the song
On this same tough old loco warmth of earth.
from Sketches of Vegas (Macker lives in Las Vegas, NM)
This is the New Mexico that I have come to know and love, even though I live 900 miles to the west in a gargantuan urban sprawl that is the antithesis of NM’s raw seemingly endless desert. I’ll take weather beaten, splintery wood, sage brush & bleached bones over bumper to bumper traffic & the rush, rush, rush of “modern living” any day of the week.
But whether you are in a desert wilderness or an urban one, life & death is the common thread & life is to be celebrated, no matter how small the terms. John Macker does this in Underground Sky and then some.